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December 6, 2012

Movie Review: Death Valley (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)

Shout Factory’s Scream Factory label have made a big statement lately with their efforts in putting out some of the finer horror flicks produced in the 80’s and 90’s and giving them the red-carpet treatment on Blu-ray . One film that I’m quite happy to see available for the first time on Blu-ray is Dick Richard’s slasher flick Death Valley. I watched bits and pieces of Death Valley when it would pop up on HBO or cable back in the mid 80’s and it always creeped me out. Being a youngster at the time I never could finish it because the lead character was my age and was being hunted by a psycho-killer. I was so frightened of “Strange Danger” and all that bullshit little kids were fed that something like Saturday The 14th was a better option. It’s a few decades later and I must say, I’ve watched it all the way through (with my security blanket) and Death Valley takes Stranger Danger to a whole level.

Billy (Peter Billingsley, The Dirt-Bike Kid, A Christmas Story) is a curious youngster who’s fascinated with cowboys and cap-guns. He's on a trip with his mother (Catherine Hicks, Child’s Play) and boyfriend (Paul Le Mat, American Graffiti) through the scorching California desert. The vacationers make a stop in Death Valley where a serial killer - that’s been long sought after by the local police - is starting yet another string of gruesome killings. Young Billy happens upon a piece of evidence that could put the killer behind bars. The only catch is – the psycho knows.

Death Valley really starts off in normal 80’s slasher form with some brutal murders. The point of view is all through Billy’s eyes, which is a cool thing because once Billy spots the killer we all know. This I liked, because it wasn't routine Ten Little Indians slice and dice.

The acting by Billingsley is excellent. He actually conveys the right changes in emotion appropriate for this sinister flick. Billingsley is easily one of the better child-actors over the past 30 years and thankfully is still seeing success as a producer in Hollywood. As for the rest of the cast, Le Mat and Hicks are restrained, as they should be, and Wilford Brimley puts in a Blimley-esque performance as the Sheriff (Yes, I said Brimley-esque!).

Scream Factory has done a remarkable job on the restoration of the picture and sound. The colors are very sharp and those dark night scenes that were tough to watch on cable and video look damn good on the Blu-ray. The score by Dana Kaproff is another area I was surprised with as it’s quite unnerving and it blends beautifully with the lonely, desperate feel of the surroundings. The score sounds great on the track as well.

The extra features consist of some trailers for Death Valley. These are a real hoot if you love 70’s and 80’s horror trailers. There are also some trailers for Scream Factory releases, They Live and The Island. The stand out supplement is an excellent audio commentary by Director Dick Richards that’s moderated by Edwin Samuleson of Cinefiles. You get to hear some interesting tid-bits about production, Billingsley as a child actor and even about Edward Herrman (The Lost Boys, Nixon) who briefly shows up in the beginning as Billy’s father.

It flows well and is definitely worth a listen. Death Valley is truly a lost bloody gem from the glory days of the slasher film that not only looks beautiful on Hi-Def but offers some unique touches and plenty of chills. Overall it’s an excellent release by Scream Factory that needs to be in the collection of any slasher aficionado. Highly Recommended

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